The Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Congressman Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA-02), released the following statement on the passage of the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act, also called the First Step Act. The bill was supported by Chairman Richmond and all of the other members of the CBC.
“This legislation is what it says it is: a first step; and while it is an important first step, it is not comprehensive criminal justice reform.
“As a result of the First Step Act, judges will be able to give fairer sentences to defendants, defendants won’t be charged for multiple crimes for a single incident, pregnant prisoners will not be shackled, $75 million will go toward reentry programs for the recently released, the reduced 18:1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine will be made retroactive, and 4,000 prisoners will be released early. In addition, the prison reform provisions of the First Step Act will apply retroactively to all prisoners sentenced after 1987 as a I requested when the House Judiciary Committee reviewed the legislation.
“So what is the problem? The problem is that every dollar we spend toward mass incarceration leaves our communities less safe and the First Step Act does not address mass incarceration. The First Step Act also does not address police accountability, private prisons, life without parole for juveniles, black families that were broken by the War on Drugs, among other issues.
“I applaud Congressman Jeffries, Congressman Collins, Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Nadler, Congresswoman Jackson Lee, the ranking member of the Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee, Congresswoman Karen Bass, Senator Booker, Senator Harris, and others for working to pass this legislation, and I look forward to working with them on all that is left to be done to ensure our justice system is fair.”
Below are some of the issues the First Step Act does not address that the CBC would like to see included in comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation.
- The bill does not address the strained relationship between police and the communities they serve.
- The bill does not make its prohibition on “stacking” sentences retroactive, which will leave 3,000 people in prison who could be released if the provision was made retroactive.
- The bill excludes a large number of prisoners from eligibility to receive the new earned time credits, including those convicted of certain drug offenses and immigration offenses. These exclusions will disproportionately impact prisoners of color.
- The bill does not include provisions that would permit judges the discretion to reduce juvenile life without parole sentences after 20 years. The bill also lacks provisions to permit some juveniles to seal or expunge non-violent convictions from their record.
- The bill does not address the activities of the private prison industry, which profits from mass incarceration.
- While the bill includes new programming to help prisoners reenter society, it does not address the collateral consequences that prisoners face after they renter society (e.g. employment discrimination, student loan ineligibility, loss of voting rights).
- While the bill makes the reduced 18:1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine retroactive, the disparity remains and should eliminated.